Ably self-restrained are the wise,
in action, in thought
and in speech.
Dhammapada v. 234
The word ‘restraint’ can trigger an association with other words, such as ‘inhibition’ or ‘repression’; the opposite of what we might think of as joyfulness. Yet the Buddha is telling us here that restraint is one of the characteristics of those who are wise. This is because there is a huge difference between deluded ego’s habits of blindly controlling, and the skillful effort to contain. As long as our passions are not truly informed by insight, they can be wild and get us into a lot of trouble, hence the need to contain energy. But we train our actions of body, speech and mind with an attitude of respect and kindness. Training a horse doesn’t mean we have to hurt it. We can admire the strength of the animal, while at the same time remembering we could get hurt if we are not careful. Right training involves care and mutual respect. Containing our passions enables the heart energy to build up and contribute to opening, enlivening and, eventually, transformation. Without restraint we operate at a very low level of energy and progress on the path will be limited.